Spring semester to remain in person, as planned
Updated: Jan 10, 2022
By Patrick Healy, Opinion Editor
In a statement released to the campus community this week, President John J. Hurley announced that there are currently no plans to move spring classes online, despite a regional rise in COVID-19 cases. Booster shots will not be required; neither will negative COVID-19 tests, except for those with a medical or religious exemption to the vaccine mandate who will test every week. Masks will continue to be required.
Heartbeats surely fluttered with his initial description of the situation: “We are dealing with something on a completely different level.” But that ominous opening over Omicron was softened by the recognition that the new variant is the mildest yet.
In addition, the campus has achieved a “high vaccination rate.” No numbers were provided, but President Hurley reported to the Board of Trustees exactly one month earlier on Dec. 6, 2021 that 99% of employees and 87% of undergraduates were vaccinated at that date.
President Hurley did note that some faculty may seek to teach online, though he expects this to be the “exception.” This “will be handled in a matter [sic] consistent with other legally required accommodations in the workplace.”
Specific quarantine and isolation procedures, based on recently updated guidance from the CDC and New York State, will be announced by Interim Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Sandra Estanek in the coming days.
Besides the student vaccine mandate, the only apparent change from last semester will be a slight reduction in density in some offices by relocating staff and allowing work from home where appropriate.
Throughout the statement, President Hurley touted last semester’s mask and faculty vaccine mandates, as well as this coming semester’s student vaccine mandate. “Canisius has been following the recommendations of the CDC and the state, and in cases, going beyond them with its mask and vaccine mandates.” The president, now in his final semester before retirement, urged flexibility and cautioned that “the decisions … are subject to constant review and reevaluation.”
When the president first shuttered campus nearly two years ago, the impetus was to “flatten the curve.” In other words, to stop circulation among the public. COVID-19 has reached every corner of the globe, and the best way to fight it now is to get vaccinated and observe other sanitary measures, like masking.
I agree with President Hurley that masking policies last semester were effective. As a student, I can confirm we were surprisingly compliant. I’m confident students will continue to comply with the mask mandate as long as classes and activities are held as normal.
When campus closed in 2020, everywhere else was locked down, too. Now, there are significantly fewer limitations on businesses and other activities; were they to be kept at home, students would simply spread the disease in their hometown or at other places instead of at Canisius, where at least mask mandates are enforced.
I’m also in agreement on not requiring booster shots. The statement came one day after St. John Fisher College in Rochester announced that booster shots will be required. President Hurley noted that some schools have already adopted a booster shot requirement. For Canisius, “The matter is under consideration at this point.” I urge that boosters not be required this semester.
Those students who received the initial dose as soon as it became available last year are very likely to have received the booster of their own volition as soon as that became available. Students who were coerced to receive the vaccine only by Canisius’s spring vaccine mandate will have received this first dose recently; boosters would thus not be necessary for the upcoming semester.
Boosters may well be required for the fall 2022 semester. A new president will likely have some input in this decision, as they should. The current vaccine mandate is divisive enough; no reason to push another shot on the unwilling this semester. It would also place an unnecessary strain on vaccine supplies for the general public without corresponding health benefits.
The average age of Canisius undergraduates, according to the Common Data Set, is 20. We should not be the priority for vaccines, and trying to track a shot down in the dozen days before the semester begins or during the semester would be daunting for many. President Hurley used this logic in not requiring a negative test to return to campus: “Testing sites have been overwhelmed and this would impose a hardship on students and families without a significant benefit, given the spread of the Omicron variant.”
President Hurley explicitly endorsed the view espoused by Dr. Leana Wen in the Washington Post, that, “It’s unreasonable to ask vaccinated people to refrain from pre-pandemic activities. After all, the individual risk to them is low, and there is a steep price to keeping students out of school.”
The cost to the college was definitely also considered. March 2020’s campus closure cost Canisius approximately $2.5 million in reimbursed room and board revenue — roughly $250,000 per week. Students might also suspend, transfer or even drop out if classes shifted online. Uncle Sam isn’t coming to the rescue again, and, as reported by The Griffin last month, next year’s relatively minor — given inflation and budget deficits — 3% tuition hike portends a tight budget. Transfers would further cripple our finances.
Unlike in 2020, when closures were unanimous among colleges, there would be other, in-person colleges waiting with open arms — okay, maybe just air hugs — to welcome Canisius students this time. There is absolutely no guarantee that the general public would be safer if students transferred elsewhere or stayed in locales with less rigorous masking, testing and vaccination requirements.
Announced on maybe the coldest day of the winter, President Hurley might take some heat for keeping Canisius in person. He shouldn’t. He imposed the impending vaccination mandate months in advance. His plans have so far kept Canisius cases low, even in fall 2020 without vaccines. Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Sara Morris told the Board of Trustees in December that there were, if anything, plans to increase campus activity in the coming semester. There is no reason to change course now.
Edited 1/8/22 at 14:25 to include pdf of statement